THE ISSUE: Follow through with tourism rescue plan
The opinion that Barbados’ tourism product is “tired” has been voiced by more than one industry participant in recent years.
Observers not directly connected to the sector have echoed these sentiments, pointing to the need for new attractions, and a focus on niche marketing in the face of the economic recession and increased competition internationally.
“Product development and diversification” has also been a mantra of many in local and regional tourism circles. The topic has been addressed by public and private sector officials.
It is an issue Minister of Tourism and International Transport Richard Sealy has commented on several times since being appointed to Cabinet in January 2008. He suggested one of the important issues to fix in this regard was governance of the sector.
In this regard, while speaking at the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association’s first quarterly meeting on March 27, 2013, he outlined the importance of product development and marketing to the stakeholders present.
“We need to have efficient structures in the critical institutions of governance. With this in mind, the Cabinet of Barbados has agreed to the restructuring of the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA). We will be separating the operation of the BTA into marketing and product development. The Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., will operate as a wholly Government owned limited liability company and will be solely responsible for marketing.
A Tourism Product Authority, a statutory body, will incorporate the Product Development elements of the Ministry of Tourism and the BTA,” he said.
“It is expected that by allowing greater autonomy in the marketing aspect of the BTA it will be more responsive to the ever-changing needs of the global tourism marketplace. In similar vein, a Product Authority of professionals with the necessary creative and innovative approaches will go a long way towards assisting Barbados in developing its product in a more strategic fashion.
“I believe that these changes will greatly assist us in fashioning a more successful tourism industry for Barbados,” he added.
Just last week, legislation related to these product development and marketing entities were discussed by members of both houses of Parliament.
Representatives of the BHTA have been very vocal on such matters, and have linked product development and diversification to the provision of incentives and other assistance to make this more easily achievable.
This was emphasised even more recently in the wake of concessions being granted to Sandals Resorts International.
“We firmly believe that if these same concessions are now offered to the industry as a whole in Barbados all of the products can go from strength to strength and thus secure the future of tourism as it becomes stronger and more competitive. The beauty of the tourism industry is that there is nowhere and no other business where money is better distributed throughout all the sectors, both large and small,” the BHTA said in a recent statement on the matter.
“The trickle-down effect of the tourism dollar is seen throughout the economy and the improved product and marketing power that can be achieved by the introduction of the concessions for all the industry, will lead to increased visitor arrivals, increased foreign exchange and the recovery of some of the taxes given on the one hand for concessions by the increased collection of VAT revenues on the other hand.”
In a special handbook dedicated to tourism product development the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and European Travel Commission said such a process “should following the key principles of sustainable tourism development by being authentic and indigenous, reflecting the unique attributes of the destination, having the support of the host community, respecting the natural and socio-cultural environments by not damaging these in any way, being differentiated from competitors, avoiding copycat developments, being of a sufficient scale to make a significant economic contribution, but not so large as to create high economic leakage”.
“The generation of tourism product development should be firmly based on market trends and tastes, necessitating sound analysis of the findings of tailored market research [targeting] specific products at clearly identified segments,” they added.
One of those who think Barbados can do much better in this and other ways is former BHTA president Colin Jordan, who last month said that the industry was beset by persistent declines in arrivals and lack of implementation of a rescue plan by the Government.
While listing some positives, specifically an increase in cruise ship calls and passengers, and air passenger arrivals from Scandinavia and Germany, the hotelier said these were outweighed by negatives including the costs of operation in the industry; business viability; declining arrivals from the key markets; concerns regarding safety and crime; and the quality of the ageing local product.